Departing from typical dire climate projections, today I share fantastic news: Those damaging, filmy single use plastic bags are now recyclable in Central Texas. As most Wacoans are aware, the thin grocery bags and similar wraps are not recyclable by the usual methods, including blue bins collected by the city of Waco. However, a new program, “Store Drop-Off,” does recycle these materials that otherwise are destined for the landfill.
What is recyclable? These items usually fall into the categories of plastic bags, films and wraps. Specifically, these include grocery and produce bags; bread, bagel and tortilla bags; plastic mailers including Amazon pouches; packaging air pillows; zipper bags and pouches; newspaper bags; case wraps for beverages; dry cleaning bags; napkin, paper towel, toilet paper and diaper wraps; and some cereal bags.
What is not recyclable? These items include biodegradable or compostable bags, candy wrappers, pre-washed salad mix bags, frozen food bags, chip bags, cereal box liners that tear like paper, six-pack rings and most pet food bags.
What preparation is required? Bags, wraps and films should be clean and dry before drop-off. Crumbs should be shaken from the plastic. Any paper labels should be peeled or cut off, as these interfere with the recycling process.
Where is the plastic dropped-off? Approximately 26 sites are available in Central Texas, including H-E-B, Walmart, Lowe’s, Target and Kohl’s in Waco, Bellmead, Woodway, Temple, Copperas Cove, Killeen, Harker Heights, Belton and Gatesville. (I have not personally confirmed the presence of each reported site, so a phone call to a desired location is suggested.) The receptacle is a small square box with a circular opening in the lid and instructions on the front. At H-E-B locations, this container is located to the side of entrances.
Is the plastic actually recycled? Because China and other Asian countries are no longer accepting our materials for recycling, this is a reasonable question. According to the Store Drop-Off website at how2recycle.info/sdo, this plastic is either recycled into another bag or into synthetic lumber, used for park benches and decking
But why is recycling important? By recycling plastic, we prevent it from entering the environment, where it creates repugnant litter on land and water, and injures or kills animals when they are entrapped in or ingest the material. Further, the microplastic contaminates the food chain, may ultimately enter the bodies of humans and harms the nervous system, kidneys, digestive and excretory system, respiratory system, and crosses the placenta to the fetus. It is estimated that humans ingest one credit card volume of microplastic each week. And by keeping plastic out of the landfill, space is conserved and toxins are not released.
Is recycling of value during our climate crisis? Even in this summer of a scorched Pacific Northwest and Canada, megadrought in the West with relentless wildfires and deadly floods in Europe, recycling is essential. Although the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the transportation and power sectors are our top priority, all sectors must be addressed to reach net zero emissions by 2050. And as the fossil fuel industry loses business with the transition to electric vehicles, it is attempting to grow the plastics industry, which requires oil and natural gas to manufacture its product. Recycling helps combat this fossil fuel campaign, as plastic made from recycled materials has about one third the associated GHG emissions of new virgin plastic.
Finally, what are the recommended practices? We should support plastic bag bans, adopt reusable bags and accept plastic only when no alternative exists. And we can now take an additional step for our environment and climate: label a special container at home for film and wrap plastics, collect them and drop them off at participating stores for recycling.
Alan D. Northcutt is a retired Waco physician and director of a grassroots climate action and education group, Waco Friends of the Climate.